• Other Friendship Advice

Losing a best friend who is also your sister

It’s hard losing a best friend but when the person is tied to your history like a sister, you really need to think twice before letting go

QUESTION

Dear Irene,

My sister and I used to be best friends. We had a tough time growing up. Our mother was (and still is) difficult so we supported each other a lot. As adults we remained close until recently.

About four years ago, I started psychotherapy and realized that I was mothering my sister. I also realized that my sister and I had a tendency of be overly dramatic, among other things. I decided to change the dynamics. Mainly, I try to gear conversations towards more positive subjects that we both enjoy and not blow the difficulties we meet in everyday life out of proportion.

I also stopped seeing my parents. We call on a regular basis but I haven’t seen them at Christmas, an important date in our family, for years. I develop stomach pains and become agitated at the prospect of being with them.

The relationship with my sister has gradually become strained. She is very unhappy with me because she finds me unavailable. I, on my side, am disappointed when she shouts at me and becomes critical, reminding me of the person we vowed to never resemble.

Maybe I should let go. Maybe when we are older and wiser, we will mellow again and enjoy each other’s company again. In the meantime, I am finding it hard and miss her and our old bond.

What do you think, Irene? Should we just let time do its thing?

Signed, Pam

ANSWER

Hi Pam,

Your letter is so reminiscent of many stories I’ve heard of spouses who go into therapy and change for the better, only to later discover that it causes more friction in their marriage.

In your case, you very slowly gained insight into some aspects of your personality and lifestyle that you wanted to change. But your sister didn’t have any desire to change the dynamic between you. She probably is reeling from these changes and misses the “old you” to which she had grown accustomed.

Given that you and your sister were once best friends and that your relationship with your parents is so compromised, I think you should make every effort to re-establish a healthy bond with your sister. It’s unlikely that time “will do its thing.” In fact, you may grow more alienated from each other.

You and your sister need to have a talk. You need to explain how you felt, why you were so invested in making changes, and figure out a way to connect that feels comfortable for both of you. If this is too difficult or uncomfortable for you and your sister to handle, you might want to see if your therapist is willing to help the two of you, not through psychoanalysis, but through a few short-term sessions.

Hope this helps.

Best, Irene

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Category: Family friends

Comments (8)

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  1. Wisteria says:

    I am depressed right now because I have three younger sisters – two of whom absolutely hate me, and I have no clue why. I am 7 years older than my first sister, ten years older than the next, and 14 years older than the last. The first (who is now 60) and the last (in her early 50s) have been very cruel to me.

    When the sister who is 7 years younger (I’ll call her “A”) and her daughter was getting married, the last sister (call her “C”) BOTH of them decided together (I was told by them that “they” decided) that my dying father and I were NOT invited to “D’s” daughter’s wedding.

    I live out of state, and both determined that not only were I and my daughter (who is the same age as their daughters), would not be invited to the upcoming wedding of “A’s” daughter, but my dying father was ALSO not invited. Unfortunately, I was in their town at the time while our father was dying, and even “B” the sister who talks to me and is ten years younger, could not find out why they did not invite us.

    While my dad was in hospice dying, the wedding was held, I was staying at sister “B’s” house and all of her family attended the wedding and I sat alone (and cried) as they went out. It was horrible.

    Now, sister “B’s” daughter is getting married and she kindly invited me and my daughter. I am actually afraid to go. My other two sisters are so cruel and one believes she is the best of everything (she married a man for his money and constantly lies about virtually everything) and no one can compare to her (according to her). Now, currently, 2 months before the upcoming wedding, all three of them (A,B and C) are vacationing together and I did not know until I saw a Facebook photo.

    Sister “B” has tried to find out why they have been so cruel to me (our Dad died shortly after the wedding we were not invited to), and if she knows the reason, I have not been told. They just may not tell her because she speaks to me.

    My daughter has not had contact with her extended family because of all this. Also, because I have no idea what their reasons are (my hunch is they are made up, otherwise why not just say so), and they totally ignore my daughter who is well-educated and accomplished. I don’t know what to do.

    My sister “B’s” daughter is very sweet, well-educated, well-traveled and marrying a very nice man. It’s a huge wedding and this is the first my daughter and I have ever been invited to in our family.

    There’s more to this, but the final straw is that to this day, 3 years after our father died and when my daughter and I were intentionally left out of TWO weddings (one when our father died and one afterwards – both children of sister “D”), I am now scared to be there with them.

    The two consort together to say nasty things, to make sure I am neglected and left out, and, unfortunately, my daughter is ignored.

    I don’t know what to do. I am now retired and a single parent. My other three sisters are all married (although the “mean” two openly admit that they can’t stand their husbands).

    I’d like to know why they did not invite us to the two weddings — in fact, originally, my sister “A” SENT me a wedding invitation and when I accepted, they had sister “B” call me to tell me that they did NOT want me there and thought I would say “no” because I live in a different state.

    I am in therapy over this (ironically, I am a therapist, too) and I just don’t know how to let go of this pain and know that I have two sisters who hate me (at least if I had a reason, I think I’d feel a little better because I know I have not been a bad person). For some reason, I am a target. Therapy can’t take the pain away, and I’m trying to “accept,” but that is hard, too.

    With my mother dying before my father, and now my father gone, and sister “B” friends with sisters “A” and “C,” I’m just frazzled.

    Logically, I realize I should just “let it go,” but that is much easier said than done. Because my daughter was raised by me (my ex was a brutal man and I had no choice but to leave), she has no other family. I am in my later 60s and she will be left without anyone when I go. That saddens me so deeply.

    If I had a partner, loads of money, or something that outshines what they seemingly have (at least I am not married to someone who makes me “want to vomit” as they say), then maybe they would have some form of respect for me. Others tell me it’s jealousy because I did not stay with a man I could not love, and that I have more education than they do, and that I live in a beautiful part of the country. But they can visit, so I don’t see the problem. Being retired, does it matter that I have more formal education? I did work myself through school.

    Plus, sister “A” was actually famous in a particular sport and traveled the world for it and won world medals. So, I do not at all understand her hostility towards me. Sister “C” who is the liar, I can understand because she makes up an education she never had, and makes up things she never did. But for both to collude together to purposely hurt me, my father and my daughter, I do not understand.

    I’m just exhausted over all of this.
    Thank you for listening.

  2. Melissa says:

    My sister and I were very close up until 3 and a half years ago. Our mother has NPD and this has resulted in the typical dynamics of golden child/scapegoat. I have become the scapegoat. My Mother initiated an argument with me, and my sister out of the blue decided to join in and defend my Mother, which she had never done before. In fact, she had always confided in me how difficult her life was due to our Mother. My sister has shown signs of extreme jealousy towards me over the years. She has refused to speak to me all this time. I tried so hard to communicate but she simply cut me out of her life with no reason offered. I had to go no contact with my parents for over a year to work through the damage from my Mother, but we have re-established some contact which is working Ok. My sister has remained in contact with them throughout this, especially as she doesn’t foster friendships outside of the relationship she has with our parents. We all live in the same town, and I am wondering what to do about my sister now that I have made peace with our parents, but not her. It seems to be she has gained a lot of power and control by refusing to speak to me and I am not willing to enable her to do that again. I don’t particularly want her in my life after her behaviour but this makes it uncomfortable when family events occur. Her just cutting me out of her life has been disgraceful, especially as she refused to communicate with me what her reasons were.

  3. jacqueline says:

    Pam,

    I agree with all the comments here. Call your sister – there is no better time than NOW and meet for a coffee. Just tell her how you feel – that you miss her and want her back in your life. Maybe suggest that she goes for help too, since it did wonders for you.

    • Friendship Doc says:

      Great idea—but telling anyone to go to therapy has to be done gingerly, of course:-)
      Irene

      • jacqueline says:

        Of course! This should be discussed delicately. She should mention how the therapy has done wonders for her and that, as you had so wisely suggested, Irene,they go together in order to work it out.

  4. Sheryl says:

    I agree. They need to sit down and have a heart-to-heart. A relationship this deep can hopefully be resurrected with time and patience on both parts.

  5. Amy says:

    Like Irene said, your story does sound similar to spouses who undergo therapy, people who become more insightful and commited to living a more healthy life. This often causes problems between spouses, because when one person changes, the dynamics of the relationship change.
    Your sister will always be your sister, whether you remain close or not. It sounds like you were both wounded as a result of your unstable childhoods. You’ve been able to reach out for help first and that’s wonderful. I always say therapy is a gift you give yourself. Maybe you can get your sister to partake in some therapy. Like Irene says, if you can bring her to a joint session to help you communicate how your life has changed and what you’re struggling with in your relationship. This isn’t about you being right and her being wrong, but a way to navigate “new rules” of communication.
    You and your sister share the experience of growing up together in your family, even if your reactions were different. That is a gift, especially as you get older. Your relationship is worth fighting for, as long as both of you are willing to put in the work.
    Good luck.

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